Friday, 4 July 2008


First, the not surprising news that the winner of The Frank O'Connor International short story prize has been declared early. I am not surprised, as I've just read it for review. Many congratulations indeed to Jhumpa Lahiri. (golly that feels very very daft... a minnow waving its tail at a whale).

The judging panel decided that Unaccustomed Earth, which had already soared to the top of the ratings in the US, was so far above the other contenders that there was no point making shortlisted writers sweat it out.

We knew there were no Salt Publishing books in the running, but two of the Salt team (Carys Davies and I) have been invited over to the Frank O'Connor Festival for the whole three days, to read. A generous gesture from the organisers, and a much appreciated little 'consolation prize'.

But I am sad that there isn't a shortlist. No - not because Glass Bubble would have been on it... there were so many extraordinarily strong writers, and those were just the books I knew myself. But because it is hard enough for short stories to make an impression in today's world, and the little line 'shortlisted for the FOC' might have done wonders for some superb collections. I read all the Salt entries, and several others on the longlist including Ann Enright's and Clare Wigfall's. As both a writer and a reader. And I know how good they are.


In a strange synchronicity, one of the other Frank O'Connor longisted writers was announced yesterday as one of the five contenders for The National Short Story Prize. For a single story, The Numbers.... a possible £15,000.

The Loudest Sound and Nothing is a terrific collection.

Sending you loads of good luck, Clare!

Clare Wigfall interviewed HERE

The Loudest Sound and Nothing reviewed on The Short Story website, HERE

many many congratulations to all the finalists:

Richard Beard Guidelines for Measures to Cope with Disgraceful and Other Events

Jane Gardam The People on Privilege Hill

Erin Soros Surge

Adam Thorpe The Names

Clare Wigfall The Numbers


Cadenza said...

I have read only some of the work in the longlist, haven't yet read the winning collection, but nonetheless, given the names on the longlist, I would question that notion of Unaccumstomed Earth being 'so far above' the work of the other entrants that it renders shortlisting pointless.

Moving the goalposts in this way can never be justified in my opinion, precisely because it disappoints so many people. I'm aware that there was some controversy over the FO award last year, and no doubt the same will be true this year in light of this decision. Organisers of any competition have a responsibility to those entering, and surely, that responsibility includes a commitment to stick with the conditions entrants accepted at the outset. Surely those conditions form a contract, don't they?


Vanessa Gebbie said...

I'm sure the call wasn't taken lightly, Z. And I appreciate the organisers not wanting to give the impression that other writers were in the race when that was not the case. Viewed like that, it was a brave decision.

Douglas Bruton said...

But were the other writers not actually in the race if they were on the longlist... or should that have been dispensed with too? I accept that there might be a runaway winner (have not read everything on the list... barely scratched the surface), but a runaway winner does not mean that the rest were not worthy of some further recognition.

To say that there is no shortlist because the winner was so far ahead certainly helps the winning writer, but at the expence of the rest of the field, perhaps.

I think there was a duty on the judges to recognise others as well. It was a brave decision that they took... but I am not sure that it was either good or right.


Vanessa Gebbie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vanessa Gebbie said...

It is an interesting question, 'what are the duties of literary comp judges'...

I do not agree that one of their roles is to encourage and to give affirmation where they do not feel it earned/deserved.

Zadie Smith's recent refusal to award a prize in this year's Willesden comp is a case in point. An unpopular decision, but a brave one.

A lit comp is not a running race. There is no 'first past the tape'. And it isnt a school prizegiving, in which the staff have invented certifcates to encourage little Johnny to do better whilst they award silver cups to others for best in year at maths...

(sorry, D. Not a dig at a teacher - I draw the comparison only - as so many people seem to think lit comp judges have some sort of mentoring role.)

Having said all that, I was, as I said, disappointed ot to see a shortlist. There were some superb writers on there. Wigfall and Enright are hardly inconsequential writers, to name two.

Last year there was controversy surrounding the fact that the prize was given to a relative wild card, and that some internationally known writers were sidelined. It was not surprising that this year the pendulum would swing hard the other way.

In the end, life's like that isn't it? I remember feeling like this as a schoolgirl, pudgy and shy, watching those eternally popular prefects with long legs, beautiful faces, Oxbridge places, who had golden futures landing effortlessly on them (it seemed!) and who played the violin to Grade 8, rowed for the county, sang in a pop group at weekends and seemd to know all about sex when to me it was all a fog.